Challenging men’s mental health stigma

Published: 16 April 2021
Reporter: Peter Lathan


Macho, a new dance film from North East based Hit the Ground Running Dance Theatre Company, confronts the stigma still attached to male mental health problems. It aims to challenge stereotypes around masculinity and men's mental health and explores why and how society fails to adequately address men's mental health problems and the stigma surrounding men's vulnerabilities and emotional wellbeing.

The first film in a trilogy exploring mental health, Macho will be released during Mental Health Awareness Week and can be watched on the company’s YouTube channel from Monday 10 May.

Artistic Director Michael Heatley said, “There's this idea in society that ‘men should be brave’—but what does being brave actually mean? All too often, being ‘strong’ or ‘brave’ is interpreted in a way that rewards the stiff upper lip, brush it under the carpet approach. But surely, being brave is about actually facing mental health problems and acknowledging our vulnerabilities?

“When it comes to mental health, we know that these outdated and ill-informed attitudes can be incredibly dangerous—something that's especially prevalent here in the North East where we've seen some of the highest rates of male suicide in the country.

“We all experience good mental health and bad mental health, but men still face the added challenge of toxic masculinity and, in my view, there's no better art form than dance to challenge this.”

Performed by two male dancers and filmed at Easington Social Welfare Club, the film is a development of a full-length dance theatre piece created by the company and first performed live in 2016. The team has worked in close collaboration with men who attended the Cree Group at the Waddington Centre in Durham, a local community mental health resource, who inspired the original performance through their stories. Some of these participants will be involved in the film as supporting artists.

The 2016 project, the 2018 North East tour and the film have all been funded by Arts Council England as part of the company's research, development and performance work, and there are plans to tour extensively when conditions allow both nationally and internationally.

“I challenge anyone who thinks men shouldn't cry, show vulnerability or dance to come and see our show,” Heatley added. “It's about time some of these myths and stigmas are kicked into touch—and I'm delighted to give our dancers the opportunity to do just that.”